Presenting to executive-level stakeholders
Tailoring your communication to the right audience
Welcome to our third newsletter issue. This week we are focusing on engaging executive-level people or senior stakeholders. Often they are time-poor and have many things competing for their attention. A lot of the effort should be done in advance with planning the meeting, more than the meeting itself. We have seen many in-person and remote sessions go badly so there are some things to consider when structuring your meeting.
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1. Understand the purpose of the meeting and what do you wish to get out of it
Your time should be invested the most in this step. The goal and purpose will determine the format and attendees. The purpose of the meeting could be to: get buy-in for your initiative, share an update or reach a decision.
Tip: Come back to the purpose each time - it should be stated at the start of the meeting, the document and the agenda.
2. Who should be in the room
Every person in the room should make a decision or give you input based on what you plan to share. By having too many people in the room, the purpose can be sidetracked or diluted. Every attendee should be contributing. Give attendees tasks to focus on. These tasks can be specific to the individual, their role or their responsibility. E.g. VP of Product, if you can help give us feedback on how this could fit into our current product strategy. Or to the VP of Product design, we would like your thoughts on whether there are pre-existing design visions we should align with and if there are user experience blind spots. A stakeholder mapping exercise can help you with figuring out who should be in the room.
Tip: Make the material sharable to non-attendees so that there is less pressure to attend live and people don’t feel left out. By doing so, you can keep the attendee list small. Record the meeting and share that also.
3. Tailor your message to the audience
Make sure you understand your audience and who is in the room. Sometimes people prefer information and context upfront. Some like summary upfront and the deep dive into the details after and others the reverse (more details in Culture Map). It might come down to culture, preference and personality traits.
Tip: Give attention to what people pay attention to. If presenting on Zoom make sure you can see the audience’s faces and especially focus on the main stakeholder.
4. Send information in advance
By sending the presentation or document in advance, the audience has an opportunity to prepare thoughts and questions. The CEO of Spotify discusses this with Tim Ferriss. For him, this leads to a better opportunity for discussion rather than off the cuff comments. Even better if you send an agenda and you can direct to specific points you want to cover in the time slot itself.
Tip: Give enough time so that the attendees have a chance to read and think about what is being shared. If you have specific things to be discussed in the session, highlight that so executives know what to focus their attention on. Attach the presentation to the calendar invite. Work with the executive assistant to block in some time in their calendar to review the document.
5. Practice and prepare
If there are two or more presenters, make sure you have tempo and timing covered. The more you practice the more confident you will be. Try not to rely on notes. If it's a slide deck remember each slide should have one key point, so what is that one thing you need to get across. Have someone review the content - this person should review your work with a critical eye and debate each detail. It will ensure the presentation is stress-tested, and the chance to prepare counterarguments and deeper thinking.
Tip: If you have many presenters, have an avatar at the top right corner - so if people get nervous or stage fright they know which slides they need to talk about rather than rely on memory.
6. During the meeting spend adequate time setting the context
Remember you are presenting to stakeholders who are not spending each day on the topic. Allocate sufficient time to provide context and include the problem statement, current scenario, qualitative and quantitative research. These should support why the problem is worth solving.
Tip: A good way to make your message stick is by presenting a contrast between the current state and where you want to be. Follow that up with the plan to get there.
7. Budgeting time for questions with frequent intervals
If you have done #5 then you will be prepared for questions from your stakeholders. Have more information in the appendix or have the relevant documents ready to help you answer questions.
For a smaller group, let your attendees ask questions anytime. For bigger groups, where controlling the flow of conversation is difficult, keep questions to the end. Stop for questions at the end of every section while that content is fresh. For instance, stop for questions once you have finished setting context. By doing so, it ensures your audience understands the background well and agrees with the scenario before you discuss the details of the solution.
8. Follow up
As the meeting is coming to a close, make sure the next steps or decisions are summarised and shared with the attendees. It’s a good opportunity to ask attendees if and how they want to be updated on the project or decision. Put those systems in place so that they can access updates and there will be few surprises when the next meeting comes around. It helps with focusing the meeting on discussions rather than focusing on bringing stakeholders up to date.
Tip: If the goal is to make decisions, include a decision log at the end of the deck and document and send that back to all the attendees. If there are contentious decisions made, recording them in real-time is important. Sometimes corporate amnesia sets in and it’s easy to set things when it's fresh in the context of the meeting.
Other resources on this topic:
Harvard Business Review : How to present to senior executives
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